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Jan 25 2003

US will shield Iraq's oilfields from the hellfires of Saddam

Exclusive By Mark Ellis And Gary Jones


AMERICA admitted last night that any attack on Iraq is geared to oil.

A senior US defence official admitted the US had secret plans to protect the country's oilfields from Saddam Hussein's revenge.

He added that military planners had "crafted strategies that will allow us to secure and protect those fields as rapidly as possible".

Intelligence reports show Saddam is plotting to damage or destroy oilfields if his country is attacked.

Iraqi forces set fire to Kuwaiti oilfields while retreating during the 1991 Gulf War, causing an economic and environmental disaster.

The Mirror revealed this week that the task of seizing the fields will go to British troops to squash suggestions of a US "oil grab".

But, it emerged yesterday, US energy giant ExxonMobil is already in "pole position" in the race for Iraq's liquid gold.

Oil industry analysts at Deutsche Bank recommend buying ExxonMobil shares despite worldwide uncertainty on the stock markets.

Their advice is contained in a 35-page internal document leaked to the Daily Mirror.

Last night, Friends of the Earth said: "Oil, oil, oil...that's what this is all about. America wants to get its hands on as much of the stuff as possible - and Iraq has the second biggest reserves in the world."

Deutsche Bank experts in London, Edinburgh and New York believe ExxonMobil is ideally positioned to get new reserves after Saddam is toppled.

Their report notes: "Exxon Mobil's status as the largest US oil company gives it major weight with the US government. The company may find itself in pole position in changed-regime Iraq."

Yesterday the bank admitted their report was "very sensitive", saying: "This was for our clients and not for the media."

Executives of Texas-based ExxonMobil and other American oil companies are already reported to have had talks with the US administration about how to rebuild the Iraqi oil industry. Oil chiefs say there is a desperate need to find another 80million barrels a day to meet demand.

Iraqi's assets have been estimated at 112billion barrels, about a tenth of known reserves and second only to Saudi Arabia.

UN experts are preparing to report to the Security Council in New York on Monday on their search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

The International Atomic Energy Agency will give a "quite satisfactory" B-grade for co-operation, despite the need for improvement. Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei will tell the Council that Saddam's government has provided good access to inspectors.

But he will also say the Iraqis "need to help themselves by coming forward with evidence rather than waiting for the inspectors to sniff it out" and ask for more time.

One Washington official said the US was now considering extending inspections in an effort to ward off criticism it is rushing into war.

President Bush will use his State of the Union speech on Tuesday to prepare Americans for conflict, the White House said.

But he is not expected to declare war or issue an ultimatum. A spokesman said: "He will talk about the direct threat Iraq poses due to WMD. It's a speech to continue to educate the public."

As tension mounted around the world, 122 Democrats in the House of Representatives signed a letter urging Bush to give UN weapons inspectors a chance to complete their work before any strike.

In New York, 100 law professors warned Bush he could be prosecuted for war crimes if military tactics violated international humanitarian law.

US embassies worldwide were told to be ready to quit their countries at short notice yesterday.

The State Department did not confirm the move was linked to war with Iraq. A spokesman said: "We're reminding people to take appropriate precautions.'

It was also revealed every police officer in Britain will be issued with guidance on dealing with suicide bombers.


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